Two biggest heart attack mistakes

Every 10 minutes an Australian will suffer a heart attack. Everyday 20 of those people will lose their lives.

Nicci Dent, CEO of Heart Research Australia, said: “Heart disease is Australia’s number one killer, but it is surprising how little people know about the signs of a heart attack and what is critical to do in the moment.”

This February, Heart Research Australia is encouraging all Australians to donate and to wear the colour red for someone close to their heart, aiming to raise funds and awareness that can help to keep families together for longer.

“In addition to encouraging people to wear red and donate to life-saving research, we are promoting an important free Heart Smart Pocket Guide. The Heart Smart Pocket Guide is designed to fit in your wallet or pocket and is a handy guide to heart attack symptoms and the recommended response in an emergency. By knowing and recognising the symptoms of a heart attack, you could help save someone’s life. Maybe even your own.”

Ms Dent emphasised the importance of knowing heart attack symptoms, as it is likely that you or someone you know will suffer from a heart attack during your lifetime. She stressed the importance of the actions you and medical staff take in the hours following a heart attack, as they can greatly impact survival rates. 

She shared the two dangerous, yet common mistakes Australians make about heart attacks.

Assuming that everyone experiences the same heart attack symptoms
While most people will recognise that chest pain is a sign of a heart attack, few recognise other common symptoms.

Cardiologist Dr Rebecca Kozor said: “Many people assume that all heart attacks happen like in the movies – sudden and intense pain in the chest that causes someone to collapse. If that were the case, it would be easy to know when to go to the hospital. In reality, the signs can be less obvious and vary between individuals.”

These are the lesser-known signs and symptoms we should all be aware of. 

  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain in the jaw, shoulders or arms
  • suddenly feeling dizzy, weak, faint, light-headed
  • indigestion or heartburn.

Dr Kozor notes that women may experience different heart attack symptoms to men. She said: “Women need to know about heart disease – sadly, it kills more Australian women than breast cancer. Chest pressure is still the leading complaint for women, however, women experience different heart attack symptoms compared to men – they are more likely to also report nausea, sweating, vomiting, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, or back.”

Ignoring heart attack symptoms or thinking that they will go away naturally
Time is the greatest determinant of whether or not a heart attack will be fatal, stresses Dr Kozor. “I cannot repeat this enough – every minute counts. If you’re having a heart attack, prompt medical attention may help protect your heart muscle from permanent damage and perhaps save your life.

“The longer the time without treatment, the more damage there can be to the heart muscle and this reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood. This can result in poor blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys, and can lead to heart failure,” she said. “While you may have doubts about whether or not to call an ambulance, please do not hesitate. Sadly, many Australian deaths due to heart attack occur before the person gets to hospital or first medical contact.

“If you have warning signs of a heart attack call triple zero immediately and ask for an ambulance.”

Responding to a heart attack
If someone near you has a heart attack, do not drive them to hospital, reminds Heart Research Australia, as you may be required to perform CPR. Call 000 and ask for an ambulance immediately.

Make sure that the person is resting quietly while waiting for the ambulance. Do your best to keep them calm and give them an aspirin if one is available and they have not been recommended otherwise by a medical professional.

If you are in a remote area and an ambulance is not readily available, call the nearest hospital or the patient’s doctor to ask for advice.

The pocket guide containing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and information on how to respond can be found here.

“The pocket guide is free to Australian residents, but any financial support towards our life-saving research will be gratefully received,” said Ms Dent. “The simple fact is that research saves lives, which is why Heart Research Australia funds world-class and emerging researchers to conduct ground-breaking research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.”

Have you or someone close to you experienced a heart attack? Is there anything you wish you had known beforehand that could have changed the outcome?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Liv Gardiner

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